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Carl Malamud: government information copyfighter

[Update: HA! StanfordLawLibrarians cross-posted a similar story almost at the same exact moment on FGI and over at LegalResearchPlus. So I deleted their post and include this link to their story as well!]

Carl Malamud is itching for a copyfight, and when he wins(!), the American public will be better informed due to better access to state, county and federal regulations, building codes, plumbing standards, criminal laws etc.

Code city is now open and the readme file is a graphic novel (view it as a Flickr slideshow here!) explaining the travesty of state and local codes being copyrighted rather than in the public domain and freely available online. Code city included full-text scans of 43 state codes — including the entire California Title 24 Safety Codes! — and several city codes (Little Rock, Denver, Phoenix, Wilmington, Honolulu, St Louis, Las Vegas).

The goal of the project is to get as many city, county and state safety and building codes and regulations out on the open Web in a standardized digital format (YAY open standards!!) so that others can use the documents to design Web sites with more modern search and presentation features, “social Web sites where, for instance, plumbers could provide useful annotations to building codes — perhaps blending Wikipedia with Facebook for a more useful law site.” If/when he’s successful, citizens (not to mention libraries!) will no longer be forced to shell out hundreds of dollars (CA code is $1,556 for a digital copy, or $2,315 for a printed version!). And that’s a very good thing!!

California’s building codes, plumbing standards and criminal laws can be found online.

But if you want to download and save those laws to your computer, forget it.

The state claims copyright to those laws. It dictates how you can access and distribute them — and therefore how much you’ll have to pay for print or digital copies.

It forbids people from storing or distributing its laws without consent.

That doesn’t sit well with Carl Malamud, a Sebastopol resident with an impressive track record of pushing for digital access to public information. He wants California — and every other federal, state and local agency — to drop their copyright claims on law, contending it will pave the way for innovators to create new ways of searching and presenting laws.

“When it comes to the law, the courts have always said there can be no copyright because people are obligated to know what it says,” Malamud said. “Ignorance of the law is no excuse in court.”

Malamud is spoiling for a major legal fight.

He has begun publishing copies of federal, state and county codes online — in direct violation of claimed copyright.

Nathan Halverson, Press Democrat, Wednesday, September 3, 2008

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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